Monday, October 31, 2005


We have heard a rumor that kids are trick-or-treating in the States right now as we type. Halloween is not practiced so much here in China. There is a trick-or-treat thing set up in one of the US embassy areas outside the city where the families with children live, but that's it. So have some chocolate for us and send us pics of everyone in their costumes!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Dawn In Beijing

We decided to check out a local market that opens at 7am. It is about an hour's walk from our apartment which meant we had to leave pretty darn early.

Here is a picture of some lovely cranes along the city skyline just past 0-dark-30. Beijing slaps up buildings at a rate that simply defies explanation. Scenes like this one are common; there are probably more crane-operators in Beijing than in all U.S. cities combined, or at least that's the way it appears from here.

Pan Jia Yuan (Dirt Market)

This is where we walked on Saturday. It is home to a big antique market. What does 'antique' mean? Well, most of the markets in Beijing (and there are many many) have piles upon piles of things. Many have mass-produced bowls and plates and some random hand-made (but not home-made) kitschy items. This market had a lot of old things, mostly used, in addition to the regular stuff. There were carved tea pots, incredible amounts of calligraphy accoutrement, wood carvings, and beads.
The ground of this open air market used to be dirt, hence the name 'Dirt Market'. Now it is covered in paving stones and sheltered beneath sprawling roofing structures (kind of like warehouses without walls).

Items From Dirt Market

Here are some of the things we found at PanJiaYuan.

There were all sorts of carved tea pots. This one is solid with not much of a design while some of the others had intricate dragons or landscapes cut as a relief.

There are so many things made from carved wood! There are whole beds with enclosing walls. At this market we saw screens, dressers, tables, and wall hangings. There are signs proclaiming the riches of furniture available for sale, but we were satisfied with our first trip to the Dirt Market and departed after a scant two hours of zipping through the countless stalls.

Anyone? We think it may be a type set (based on descriptions we've heard of old-style Chinese typewriters), but we are open to other suggestions. Oh, the silver-colored Budda was just sitting on top. An extra something for our viewers :)

We are pretty sure these are compasses with levels but there are crazy markings on them. Again, any ideas?

Flower Stick

At the corner of the street leading to the dirt market there was a nice open area with some bushes. (It was right behind the sign with the street name.) When we were walking to the market (see: dawn) there were about 20 people doing exercises as described by a voice issuing from a loudspeaker. Cara followed from the sidewalk for a neck-stretch exercise while Michael consulted the map.

On the way home, there were about 9 middle-aged people juggling devil sticks or flower sticks in the same area. When we stopped to watch, one nice man came over, asking Cara to "shi yi shi" (try a little) using his set and another woman showed Cara how to juggle the flower stick. The sticks belong to the fellow taking the picture with his cell phone. You can also see the people sitting on the bench behind us watching Cara try this crazy form of Asian juggling. Was much fun.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Weather Around the World

There is snow in Pennsylvania and there are still leaves on the trees
There was a hurricane in Florida
And the top picture shows you the smog in Beijing for the day (Picture was taken at 9am)

On the other hand,
Winnipeg, Manitoba is above freezing and there is no snow
And there is a lovely rain around Hontanas, Spain

Follow-up note:
This was suppose to get posted early this week but it disappeared, so it is going up today. But today is a beautiful day in Beijing, like the bottom picture. We had some like rain and a lot of wind and the smog was blown away.

Chicken Soup Follow Up

When we made the chicken soup we froze the results for later trial. Last night we tasted them. Not too bad, even with the cut up bits of daikons. Some flavoring was required, but overall, we declare these results a success!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Northern-Style Bean Curd

We tried making this bean curd/tofu dish last night. You are supposed to coat the tofu bits in cornstarch, dip them in beaten eggs, and deep fry them in the wok. Then you puncture the coating and cook them in a liquid mixture which is supposed to allow the tofu to soak up the tasty liquid. It sounded easy.

Lessons learned:
- Coating tofu may make a mess, though it is containable, especially if your flannel shirt catches most of the cornstarch
- If you use a closely woven wire basket for holding the coated tofu, it will be mightily difficult to clean
- Coatings don't stick well to tofu, so poking holes in the non-existent coating may not be necessary
- You can poke those unnecessary holes much faster when your cooking partner says, 'We have no more than 20 seconds for you to get the tofu ready before the liquid in this pan will have problems. 20.... 19.... 18.... 17....." (It was ready by 3!)
- Even if the meal does not look like the picture, it can still be pretty darn tasty

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Wangfujing Paleolithic Museum

You find this museum in the basement of one of the largest malls in Beijing right next to a subway entrance. This 30,000-year-old settlement was uncovered by a subway crew. They were just going to throw the bones out but the government was convinced to keep the bones and they opened this museum.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Forbidden City

Cara checked out the Forbidden City on Monday with Natalie (a new friend from our congregation. Natalie is here teaching English). This is the main entrance on the south side. You can see the Forbidden city in this map. This is where the emperor use to live.

Here is Natalie and some carved dragons in the Forbidden City. There are dragons everywhere, they represent celestial and terrestrial power, wisdom, and strength.

Elephants represent strength, sagacity, and prudence.

This is an electrified dragon. It is not actually labeled that way, but it was our best guess :)

The Forbidden City is huge and there is building restoration going on everywhere. Here is one newly retouched. They are hoping to have more buildings ready to be seen by 2008.

This was a carving near the emperors’ private quarters.

This cool tree was at the south entrance of the main garden.

This warning sign means 'please don't vandalize' only it is much more elegant. People touch everything here. In the stores, they open up containers to check what is inside. In this palace, Chinese people will touch the walls, the paintings, the sculptures - everything.

New Tastes

When we met, we realized that we had many many things in common. One thing that was not shared was Michael’s passion for spicy food; a passion that is encouraged by Chinese cuisine. However, this was not an obstacle as Michael realized that with some careful cultivating, Cara could also be taught to enjoy mouth-numbing foods.
The red and black peppercorns in the picture are from the pepper in the picture. Well, really from that type of pepper but not that exact pepper. These peppercorns literally numb the part of your tongue that they touch for almost a minute, maybe longer. (Tim, we will be bringing some back for you.) They are very popular in the local dishes and in Michael.
Actually, everything here has a bit of a kick. We bought these sweet smelling bread-like snacks hoping for something tasty. They are sweet, but there is a spicy after taste. Not a combo you find much in the states.
So Cara has been trying all sorts of foods and drinks that in the past have not been on her favorite list. She has made the following shocking discoveries
- Beer actually tastes okay and can even be enjoyed in its own right
- Dark chocolate tastes better than milk chocolate
- Spicy foods are nummy (the numbed tongue is still weird though)
(For those of you who don’t know Cara, these are startling realizations. Who knows where this may lead? Maybe coffee will start tasting good… nawww)

First Dinner Guests

Saturday we had our first dinner guests, Jenny and Anthony!

Dinner was a peanut free Kung Pao Chicken with Bok Choy and beer. For those not familiar with Kung Pao Chicken, a peanut free variety is most unusual given that you could just as easily call it Kung Pao Peanut since it is almost equal parts chicken, peanuts, and hot stuff.

We had Indian coconut rice pudding (with black rice) and ube ice cream (that's the purple ice cream that Michael became addicted to when he first got here) and tea for dessert. The picture is from dessert. Please notice that all desserts are purple as you can see in the picture. Its pretty darn cool.

You can check out their website by going to

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Its a small world after all

This Friday night at services there were 2 tour groups visiting. Most of the members were from Canada and about 8 of them went to school with Cara's mom, Carol. They were surprised but Michael was not. He has come to realize that there is no where in the world where someone doesn't know Carol.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


We got the stuff below from the store this afternoon. I'm hoping you recognize the apples. As for the other stuff, well... part of the reason we bought them is we also had no idea what they were. The green leafy things are probably bok choy. The red spiky things are rambutan. Need more info?

Here is what we learned through arduous investigation of the matter. The spikes are soft. You cut the skin with a knife and try not to cut the center fruit which is not so hard because the skin can sort of be popped open once it is partially cut. The pulp/fuity part is similar to a peeled grape with a more sturdy texture. (It also reminded us of the alien food near the beginning of Enemy Mine). You can pop of the fruit in your mouth and chew on it and then spit out the seed. It sort of tastes like a gummy fruit. Cara had 4 of them, Michael was done after one.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

We've Got Disk!

And Cara thought that she would not be able to find ultimate frisbee in Beijing. Silly Cara.
How do you find the ultimate leagues? Why on yahoo groups of course. The really funny thing is that Wednesday night practice is a block away in the Kerry Center. In this huge city, we have to walk about 5 minutes to get there. Just amazing luck.

We went over last night for indoor play. About 12 people were there for some pretty intense playing. Michael watched and Cara ran harder than she has in over a month. The group was a little small because people are getting ready for a tournament in Hong Kong! Pretty wild.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Daikon Follow-Up

We mentioned about a week ago that we were experimenting with daikons (a giant white radish) and that we would tell you how it went. Well here is the result.

We made these daikon pickles described below. They are edible but they don't quite make it into the tasty category. Well, at least we tried them :)

Overnight Chinese Daikon Radish Pickles
1 1/2 cups chopped daikon
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)

In a mixing bowl, toss daikon with salt. Cover, and refrigerate until 1 to 2 tablespoons of water is released, about 30 minutes.
Drain and rinse daikon, removing as much salt as possible. Pat dry with a paper towel, and return to bowl. Stir in rice vinegar, black pepper and, if desired, sesame oil. Cover, and refrigerate at least 8 hours.

Jiaozi (Chinese Dumplings)

Our latest food experiment has been to try these fun little things. We used the recipe from the World Wide Gourmet. There were options for making the dough or buying it. We bought it, then discovered that we had the wrong stuff so we ended up making it any way. The stuff we bought were these huge (~2 ft diameter), round, paper-thin, tofu wrappers. What we wanted were 4 inch round wrappers. So now we are snacking on the tofu ones. They taste pretty good in their own right.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cool Park

This is our favorite park so far.
This is the warning side at the park entrance.
The bugle = no horns
We think the demolition of the building at the bottom = no fire works

Children were biking and rollerblading like mad around this thing. We're not quite sure how that works with the 'not allowed' sign. Maybe the rules only apply to people over 6 years old.

The park was just lovely. It was sort of laid out like a European garden. Very relaxing. There were a bunch of groups of men and women talking and playing cards. We even heard one woman singing a folk song.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Thriving Support Center

Well that's ironic

Dragon Fruits

This is Michael's favorite fruit. Has anyone seen them in the states? They have a similar texture to a kiwi but a much milder flavor.

Yom Kippur in Beijing vs Israel

We had a rabbi and his wife fly in from Israel to lead Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur services. They were talking on the phone to their son regarding Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the Jewish year. No work is done on this day and in Israel everything closes down. It is similar to how small American towns react to Christmas Day.

They explained to their son that they took a cab to services and their son was very surprised.
Son, "You could find a cab that was working on Yom Kippur?!?"
Mom, "Yes. Only the Orthodox drivers in Beijing stayed home today."

Thursday, October 13, 2005


We did some walking around and exploration of the subway system and a park last weekend.

There is a restaurant half way up this building. This was one of the views from inside the park.

And this was called the China Millennium Monument. There are some big TV screen with music and videos playing. You can hear the music from the street. We saw this outside the park at the intersection of 2 streets. One of the streets goes through the structure. You can see the entrance in the bottom right.


Tuesday's new dish was Parsnip, Eggplant, and Cashew Biryani (Indian vegetarian). Unfortunately we couldn't find parsnips and we decided that the daikons (see previous post) were a bad substitute so it became Eggplant and Cashew Biryani.

It was fun to make, even if it did take about 3 hours. Did you know that raisins plump up when heated with a little oil? You can actually watch them puff up into little balls. Very neat.

Tasted pretty good right out of the oven. Didn't heat up so well the next day. We'll probably try it again.

Jujubes and other unidentifiable vegetables.

More Tastes of China

There are so many choices in the grocery store, its hard to know what to get. Part of the fun is picking up a few new things each time. On this particular trip, it was time to try some vegetable type items.

So we bought a double handful of the things to the right. (Don't worry, we didn't eat the yellow sticky. Its just there for scale. See Dad, you're influence can still be seen halfway across the world.) We thought they might be chestnuts, nope. It turns out these things are Jujubes. The candy that our cousin Matthew is so very fond of is made from this fruit. Who would've guessed. They don't taste much like the candy. In fact, they don't taste much like anything. They are very mild and a little sweet. They sort of look like an apple when you bite into them. They are brown when they are ripe. We didn't know what they were suppose to look like when we got them at the store, so we just grabbed a variety of colors.

We also got all the stuff in this picture. Broccoli, peppers, onions, eggplant, huge carrot, celery, and.. uh... a parsnip?
Nope. It sort of smells like a radish when we cut it open. What are those thing? A daikon? What on earth is that?

A daikon is a variety of the radish. You treat it like a carrot by peeling it, but it tastes like a slightly bitter radish. Interesting. We added one of them to our chicken soup (verdict forthcoming) and the other one got turned into some pickles which are still in the fridge (another verdict forthcoming). So far, these things are not at the top of our 'try again' list.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Chicken Soup

We decided to make some chicken soup. No problem, we'll just head over to the grocery store and pick up a chicken and some vegetables.

I realize that some of you have already figured out where this is going. All I can say is that we were lucky that we were at a grocery store and not an open-air market where it might still have had feathers attached.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Being a Jew in China

Practicing Judaism here is easier than practicing many other religions because the state considers Judaism to be a non-aggressive religion since we don't actively recruit. This means that it is okay to gather and worship. For some religions, there are guards at the doors and you must show your foreign passport to be allowed in. Our congregation meets at a hotel and we just walk in and go the appropriate room.

I kind of see the government's point with Judaism though. I mean, how appealing can this sound?
"Hi there. Why don't you join our religion? Today we are having nothing to eat and drink for 25 hours. Its loads of fun!"

Our congregation, Kehillat Beijing has a core of about 10 people who seem to organize everything. There is no regular Rabbi and as luck would have it, we volunteered to help out with the Yom Kippur services.

While there are old synagogues in Beijing, they are not active. That is why we use a meeting room in a hotel and Chabad (a more traditional Jewish group) meets in a house. It takes about an hour to walk to the hotel from our apartment .

Click on the map for a larger image. We have marked where we live, the US Embassy, and our 'synagogue'. Thanks to Frommer's for supplying the map.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Restaurant follow up

Just a quick follow up.
We were seated at a table very close to the kitchen, such that the chefs could watch our table and still work. We were also sort of behind a pole. We had two theories on this arrangement.

1) Silly Americans often do embarrassing things and we should be hidden from sight so as not to offend the other patrons (there were only one other table occupied.)

2) We were placed specifically to allow optimal viewing and amusement for the restaurant staff.

Upon consulting his teachers today at school, Michael discovered that option 2 was in fact the most likely scenario.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Silly Americans

The thing that saves us clumsy and uncouth Americans is that the Chinese think we are very amusing, and well, kind of cute.

There we are having dinner out in a nice restaurant. The waitress hands us the menu and stands there waiting for us to order something. There is no, "I'll be right back to take your order". Instead there is a very nice woman who is looking at us expectantly with pencil posed as soon as we are given the menus.

In Chinese, Michael asks the waitress to give us 5 minutes. She smiles and walks away - whew.
Michael then pulls out his pocket translator and we attack the menu. About 15 minutes later we think we may be ready to order something. Luckily the place is empty so we are not hurting anyone's income by taking forever to place an order.

The hostess (where did the waitress go?) comes to take our order. Apparently for moral support, our waitress, and is that another hostess?, come over and hover nearby. Michael tries very hard to tell her what we want. It turns out they don't have one of the things we asked for. Uh oh. Now she is making a suggestion for something else. Uh... what do you suppose that is? Sure, sounds good.

(Now for the funny part)
"Lmasdkfj slkdf dkjasld j?" she asks
(that btw is Cara's interpretation of what she said and should not be mistaken for actual Chinese, which at the moment, makes even less sense)
"Ahhhh" says Michael
"Lmasdkfj slkdf dkjasld j?"
"I don't understand" Michael responds in Chinese
"Lmasdkfj slkdf dkjasld j?"
This continues with Michael trying various answers and getting pretty much the same response. This went on for over 6 minutes, and the amazing thing is that the hostess does not become annoyed. She does start laughing at us, but we deserved to be laughed at because it turned out all she was asking was, "Is that all you want?"

Finally we understood! "Yes that is all"

For the rest of the meal we had an audience of at least 2 staff members at all times. There were 2 chefs, 3 waitresses, and 2 hostesses any and all of whom could be staring at us at any given moment.

At one point Cara was having trouble with an overly large piece of lettuce and (major faux pas) tried to cut it with the side of her spoon. Within moments the waitress came by and asked if would like some silverware, (well actually a fork). When we declined, we saw one of the chefs egging the waitress on and making hand gestures showing that the silly Americans had been trying to cut their food so obviously they did need some sort of utensil and maybe we were just misunderstanding the question... again.

It could be really odd being under such scrutiny by everyone all the time, but at least they keep laughing at us. Its good to think that we can add joy to other peoples lives just by attempting to eat in public.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Taste of China Part 3

Since Cara has arrived in town we have had eaten 2 meals with other Jews for the New Year, spring rolls (soo Chinese), Thai, Indian, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Next week there is an October Fest starting at the German beer garden that we are hoping to check out.

Maybe we will try Chinese food next month :)

Actually, it is not quite as bad as all that.
For lunch on Wednesday we cooked an eggplant dish and Ma Po Doufu, a tofu dish that is somewhat on the numbing-your-mouth spicy side. Both turned out rather well.

Cooking required a trip to the grocery store. Michael introduced Cara to the store a 20 minute walk away. (Thanks for the shopping bag Kristi!) While there, we picked up some watermelon seeds (similar to sunflower seeds only they are much tougher to crack and very salty), some interesting looking herbal tea that seems to be mostly flower heads, and some kiwi and aloe yogurt. Yup, aloe. Like what you put on sun burns and grow in the backyard (well, you can grow it in the backyard if you are in Florida). Tastes pretty good actually. Also picked up a pomegranate in honor of the holidays and because it is Cara's favorite fruit. At first it appeared that pomegranate weren't available in China, (surprising considering all the things that are available) but then we discovered they were simply disguising themselves as grapefruit (see picture on left).

For those of you not familiar with this fruit, it is usually a deep purple/red like this.
Tasted just fine though :)

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

So this is what Beijing looks like... (updated)

(From the keyboard of Cara)

It reminds me a lot of big cities around the world - lots of tall
buildings and roads that go on and on. But there are also still a
bunch of trees and green spaces - you can see the planning that is
going into the city. There is construction everywhere and it
is a major contributor to the shroud of pollution that hangs over the
city almost constantly.

My first few days here coincided with the October 1st Chinese holiday
remembering when the People's Republic of China was officially
created. In honor of the holiday, most construction was shut down so
I was greeted with blue skies Monday and Tuesday. By Wednesday things
had apparently started back up and now the pollution makes it looks a
gray overcast day. To give you an idea: On Monday I could see the mountains that surround the city (you can see them in the background on the right hand side).

Today, I can just barely make out the buildings 10 blocks away. It is very startling. The picture was not taken at dusk. Its just that dark outside. This was taken by Michael before I got here. Today, it is actually darker and I can barely see the 2 funky buildings on the left.

We are in a very snazzy high rise. There are many such buildings going up. There are also very run down places near by. It is odd to see the two living conditions so close together. While walking around, we passed an area that contained crowded concrete looking houses all close up against each other. There was no glass in the windows and often only cloth for the doors. Roofs were missing and replaced with random bits of metal. The passage ways between the buildings
were mud roads. There were running cars and people were obviously living there. What was shocking (as if the rest were common place) is that apparently people are paying to live there!

While there are many skyscrapers going up, they are not actually blocking the sky. You can still see lots of space around you and the roads are quite wide - often 6 lanes of traffic or more. How one moves across traffic, or drive eek!, will be a topic for a different post!

People have been very friendly, though most of my interaction with Chinese people have been waitresses and cab drivers. But a smile has been returned with a smile and a general willingness to be helpful.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Made it!

Cara arrived in China today at 2:30 Beijing time and Michael met her
at the airport.

We then checked out our apartment and walked to high holy day
services and dinner for Rosh Hashana. That's right, we came all the
way to China to share the Jewish New Years with a 100 Jews from
around the world.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

I guess they'll miss me

Cara's parents and sister came in to Virginia to see her off. Aparently they are going to miss her because they gave away their Penn State football tickets - and it is Penn State's first Big 10 homegame. Very important.